Months after backing the Republican state party chairman for making controversial statements supporting same-sex marriage, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk has come out on the same side of the issue.
Kirk, a Highland Park Republican who returned to Congress in January following a yearlong recovery from a serious stroke, wrote in a blog post Tuesday that "when I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others."
Same-sex couples, Kirk continued, "should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back -- government has no place in the middle."
Kirk joins U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who three weeks ago became the first Republican in the upper chamber to back same-sex marriage. Portman, who has a son who is gay, said he came to the decision over time.
By stating that government has no place in the matter, Kirk takes his opinion one step further than Portman and is positioning himself as a central figure in the debate as the U.S. Supreme Court considers landmark cases on the federal Defense of Marriage Act as well as on California's gay marriage ban.
Kirk, a fiscal conservative and social moderate who represented the independent voting 10th Congressional District from 2001-2010, has pivoted over time on the issue.
Kirk backed the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for the military twice while in the U.S. House, though he lost the endorsement from gay rights group the Human Rights Campaign in his bid for Senate. Shortly after his 2010 election to President Barack Obama's former Senate seat, Kirk voted against repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in a committee, but was one of a handful of Republican senators supporting the measure during the chamber's final vote.
Kirk's spokesman, Lance Trover, declined to comment about the timing of the senator's statements, or whether Kirk had spoken with Portman before or after the announcement.
In recent weeks. Kirk, along with Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego, was instrumental in the behind-the-scenes efforts to prevent Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady of St. Charles from being removed from his post by committeemen. In statements and calls to lawmakers, Brady had voiced full support for same-sex marriage, a position that runs contrary to the party platform. Lawmakers in the state legislature are considering a proposal to allow same-sex couples to marry. The measure passed out of the Illinois Senate in February, but is, according to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, several votes short of approval in the House.
After only one Republican senator voted for same-sex marriage in February, Brady described his party as being "on the wrong side of history."
House GOP Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam of Wheaton, who is the party's second highest ranking official in the state behind Kirk, gave a terse reaction to Kirk's statements Tuesday.
Roskam, following a lunchtime speech at Chicago's City Club, called Kirk's decision a "sincere decision."
"I respect his view, I don't share his view," Roskam said, saying the state legislature "is better served in focusing where most Illinoisans are" -- unfunded liabilities and high unemployment rates, among them.
With the Republican party, both nationally and locally, struggling over the issue right now as it works to win the support of moderate, independent and minority voters, Roskam said he feels "the Republican tent is plenty big. The Republican tent is very compelling and a great invitation for all kinds of folks to get active in the GOP."
Roskam declined to get into specifics about whether he was surprised by Kirk's announcement.
"I haven't talked to him," he said, as he left the event.
Brady, reached Tuesday afternoon, declined to comment.